It was such a chore to read this book. I can’t say that I enjoyed it much, and I won’t have any qualms passing it on to someone else. Granted, I read Lost Horizon alongside two other books that I thoroughly enjoyed, but even without the stiff competition I wouldn’t have liked it much. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.
While being evacuated from India, a plane with four people on board gets hijacked. After a crash landing, the passengers find a safe haven in Shangri-La, a secret lamasery somewhere in Tibet, where people devote themselves to study and enjoy an unheard-of longevity. While waiting for porters to bring them out of the valley, three of the four people decide to stay, among them Hugh Conway, the main protagonist of the novel. He enjoys the tranquility of the valley and the inner peace he finds among the lamas.
Conway eventually finds out that the High Lama is also the founder of Shangri-La. He and the High Lama enjoy frequent conversations, and the High Lama finally reveals that he is dying and wants Conway to take his place. Conway initially agrees and looks forward to the prospect of spending time immersed in study. However, the fourth person of the group is ready and impatient to leave the valley, and when he entreats Conway to help him escape, he does so and leaves Shangri-La as well. Later on, Conway meets an author/explorer, tells him his extraordinary stint in Shangri-La, and then disappears, apparently attempting to return to Shangri-La.
I’m trying to come up with something nice to say about the book, but it’s difficult. I found this book often boring, the people in it rather two-dimensional. The lamasery has the noble goal of preserving knowledge from coming worldwide destruction (a nod to mounting tensions in 1933), but to me, the place seemed creepy. I was never convinced by Conway’s desire to stay. He is a person with a very even temper, but you’d think he’d be slightly more enthusiastic to have found his paradise on Earth. Then at the end, he changes his mind about staying within minutes, which seemed odd and out-of-character to me. I can’t say that bothered me much, though, because I was never vested in his, or any other, character.
Hilton worked as a successful screenwriter during his career, and consequently the writing in this book was often very visual. I had no problem imagining this book as a movie, and there are indeed two movie versions of this book. But I don’t think I’ll be watching either one, and I won’t miss this book once it leaves my bookshelf. However, I am looking forward to reading Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff, a story about a daring mission to rescue the survivors of a plane crash in the New Guinea jungle toward the end of WWII.